Well, we finally took a genuine, official step towards our move to the Philippines. I applied for my 13-a permanent resident’s visa! I got all of my paperwork in order. The background check, lab results, physician exam, X-rays, marriage certificate, proof of my wife’s Philippine citizenship, the application form, the whole shooting match, and took it to the Philippine embassy in Washington DC.
DC is close enough to our place in Virginia to be a daytrip. But!!!….. I really hate big city traffic. Neither of us wanted to fight the traffic and hunt for a parking space during business hours in downtown DC. We booked a hotel room within walking distance of the embassy. That allowed us to enjoy a pleasant evening wandering around and getting our bearings.
One of the wonderful things about Washington DC is the cosmopolitan atmosphere. We had our choice among an array of ethnic restaurants. We chose something neither of us had ever tried, an Ethiopian meal. Not bad, though I had to be careful that what I ordered was not spicy.
Next morning, we took the short walk to the embassy. We got there right at opening time and there were only a couple of families ahead of us. We took a number and waited.
When our turn came up, things were pretty straightforward. I knew from reading others experiences to have plenty of extra copies and extra photos. And yes, they were needed. Or at least asked for. The lady at the window went through all my documents, and asked if I had a copy of the checklist of required items. I did, and she used it to check my documents again. This time, she separated and stamped the originals and copies. She took two copies of our marriage certificate and gave the original back. She asked us to have a seat and we waited a while longer.
A short time later, we were called up again. The same lady informed us that the visa officer was out of the office. We would have to leave our paperwork and my passport there for him to go over when he returned. Except for the uncertainty of the wait, it wasn’t a big problem. My wife was applying for her Philippine passport at the same time. Since that was going to require two trips anyway, we weren’t being inconvenienced.
It was a pleasant surprise when the visa officer called the very next day. Not so much when he gave us the news. My application was in good order, except for one thing. We had all the legal paperwork proving that we were married, but we had never reported our marriage to the Philippine consulate. He couldn’t approve the visa until we presented that paperwork.
The tricky part was that we were married over 30 years ago…. in England. We were not allowed to report the marriage in the DC embassy and work from there. It had to be done in the country where the marriage took place. He did guide us to the appropriate forms for reporting and requesting documents, along with the fees required for the service. Along with that, he advised that I simply apply for the balikbayan visa upon arrival in Manila. That would give us a year to pursue the London paperwork.
Armed with that information, my wife sent an e-mail to the London embassy. That was mid-October. By mid-November, we had no response from the folks in London. We won’t be sending any forms, or especially money to them without first establishing effective two way communication.
A bit before Thanksgiving, we received word that my wife’s passport was ready for pickup. We used the same drill, a hotel and dinner for Sunday night and at the embassy early Monday morning. A detail that we had forgotten was that the time for document pickup is 1500 – 1600. And guess what? The visa officer was out again. My application, along with my passport was locked in his office. Nothing to do but relax and enjoy a stroll through the Capital Mall. We took in an IMAX film at the Air and Space Museum and strolled around, admiring the architecture of our nation’s capital.
Back at the embassy at 1500, a lady called out for anyone picking up a Philippine passport. We broached the subject of mine as well. She told us that all she could do was mail it to us if we provided a stamped envelope for the purpose. I set off to find the FEDEX office several blocks away and get back in time. I found the place, and was in the process of printing a label, when Marlyn called. The folks at the embassy had managed to contact the visa officer. He told them how to get my paperwork, and she had both passports in hand. No more trips to DC! We’re only out the $150 processing fee, that predictably they refused to refund.
So, it’s the balikbayan visa for me. Getting one is a simple process. I simply ask for it when we arrive in Manila. However, there are some things I haven’t been able to find out. I reached out to our old friend, Dave Starr at his Philfacs website. He was reassuring, but I haven’t asked him these questions.
- What do I need to do after the one year is complete? Can I get an extension, or must I leave the country and return to start the clock again?
- If my wife travels out of country, am I still legal to stay (within that one year covered by the visa)?
- Does my wife need to be with me if I leave the country?
Hopefully there are some readers with the balikbayan visa who can shed some light on these questions.